By Laura Crum
As the author of ten mysteries featuring equine veterinarian Gail McCarthy, I’ve done plenty of writing about horses in my life. But until I was invited to participate in this blog by its founders, back in March of this year, I had never written a blog, or, for that matter, read one. So, for the last few months I’ve been reading various “horse blogs”, trying to find out what it is I’m supposed to be doing here, exactly. From what I’ve read so far, there seems to be great variety; some blogs are essentially just personal diaries, others have a particular theme…etc. The most popular one I’ve stumbled upon (judging by the number of comments) is essentially a rant against horses going to slaughter—also addressing the various reasons horses end up going to slaughter, including poor breeding and training practices as well as the basic inhumanity and stupidity of many in the horse industry. Now I agree with this gal’s opinions more often than not, though I’m not nuts about the “diatribe” format. I admit it can be entertaining to read her rants (must be why she gets so many readers). Still, the main point of “Fugly Horse of the Day”, as I see it, is how we as ethical horse owners can do the best for the horses in our care. And one question arises for me over and over again, which I would like to pose to the regulars on "fugly horse" (and anyone else who reads this blog); a question that really bothers me, and I welcome any insights offered
I’ve owned horses all my life; I’ve trained horses, competed for years, rescued other people’s horses and retired them, retired my old horses…etc. I currently maintain eleven horses, only four of which we ride. One of the main things I have learned, after thirty-five years of owning, riding and training horses, is that if you truly care about the ultimate fate of a horse you have to retain ownership of said horse. And you have to check on the horse regularly if its placed with another caregiver. Even if that caregiver seems absolutely perfect in every way. (I could tell you stories.)
I have never had the experience of a horse that I retained ownership of coming to a bad end, but there were some situations that could have worked out that way if I had not owned the horse and checked on the horse regularly. The only horses I ever owned that may have had a sad fate were those I sold. And I never sold any horse that was not sound and well-trained (within the parameters of that individual—like people, some horses just have easier personalities than others). I have always tried to sell only to people I knew, who I believed were responsible, but the truth is, when you sell a horse you lose control of that horse. If the new owner decides to sell the horse, he/she can do that, and doesn’t need to consult you first (even if they promise you that they will). Once they have a bill of sale and you have the money, they have control of that horse’s fate.
At this point in my life, I’ve pretty much given up selling horses; if I take a horse on I’m responsible for its fate, and I take that seriously. Which is why I have eleven horses, only four of which are our riding horses. The others? Horses I owned who got injured or became lame or just got old and are now happily retired. Two horses that didn’t really fit me and are now being cared for and ridden by others (and are checked on regularly). One horse that I rescued many years ago and had to take away from the home where I placed him (which for many years worked well), when the horse got old enough that he couldn’t keep his weight on and the people who had him were unwilling/unable to fork out the money for the diet of “equine senior delight” that he needed. This horse now lives with my retired horses and is slick and happy. In fact, all my eleven horses are healthy and happy today, within the parameters of who they are.
The horses I feel sad about are the ones I sold. Now, I did not sell these horses when their using days were done. No, the horses I sold were all young, sound, and reasonably well-trained. And when I sold them, I thought I was selling them to good homes. But in some cases (not all) the horse eventually changed hands, and one at least did end up at the livestock auction, as I found out later.
No, this horse did not go to the killer buyers. At least not when I heard of her. Because she was a young, sound, pretty mare, well-bred, with papers, and broke to ride, she got bought by a local horse trader and sold to be a riding horse. He told me about this later (my name was listed on the papers as a previous owner—I was not the breeder), which is how I found out. I have no idea what caused her to end up at the auction in the first place.
To be honest, I’m not sure what I could/should have done differently. Lets face it, I sold these horses for a reason. One and all, they didn’t fit me; they weren’t the ones I wanted to keep and take care of forever. But I did want them to have good homes and I thought I had sold them to such. Thus I no longer sell the ones that don’t fit me; I place them in homes where they fit (and I check on them). But at the time I sold these other horses, I couldn’t afford this luxury.
I still wonder what happened to some of these horses I sold; I have nightmares about them ending up on trucks to the killers. At one time I owned them and was fond of them and agonized over their health and training. I certainly always wanted the best for them. Is the answer that one can never sell a horse? What is the ethical horse owner to do faced with this situation: I bought this horse, he doesn’t fit me, and I don’t really want to be his forever home. I want to give forever homes to horses I truly love and admire (and there are always more of these in the world than I can ever give homes to). It is a tough question, or at least I think so. I wish I knew what the right answer is/was. Thanks for your insights.